William McGarry (1883-1948) and William Shaw (1894-1941), relatives of John McGarry

William McGarry and William Shaw, my grandfathers, both lived around the London Road and Everton area of Liverpool around 1900. Both served in the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment in World War I. This is their story.

William John McGarry, my paternal grandfather, was born in Ireland in 1883 and came to Liverpool at a young age with his father, John McGarry, who was a docker.  William enlisted in Liverpool on 2 January 1915 as number 3276 in ‘C’ Company, 2/5 King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, and was renumbered as 201076 in early 1917. The address he gave at the time of his enlistment was 28 Date Street, Seaforth. He gave his occupation as a shipper, and is listed as height 5′ 6″, weight 140lbs with good physical development, religion Roman Catholic. Between 1915 and late 1916, whilst stationed at Canterbury and Woking, he was punished a number of times, mainly by being confined to barracks for overstaying his leave pass. He was posted to France on 13 February 1917 (sailing from Folkestone to Boulogne), and returned for a Corps William McGarryLewis Gun Course four months later in June that year. The photograph (left) shows the soldiers on that course. My grandfather is seated far right. The expression on these faces says it all.

William rejoined the Battalion in July 1917 and was posted to 2/7 King’s (Liverpool) Regiment on 25 January 1918. According to his record and the Battalion War Diary I have managed to obtain, he was wounded and admitted to 3 Australian General Hospital on 3 September 1918. The Diary details the movements of the battalion and all the names of the trenches in which he was positioned. By all accounts, he was a character of strong will, and was pleased to serve his country alongside twenty other loyal employees and willing volunteers at the Diamond Match Company, Litherland. The employer guaranteed all these men employment on their return after the war. William survived physically, and went back to his old employment when disembodied1 on 9 March 1919. Sadly, in 1941, the factory where he worked was bombed, and he moved to the parent building in Garston, which still stands today.

It was this event, and the noise of the Liverpool Blitz in 1941, which caused a severe mental breakdown. According to my father, this manifested itself when William would shout out while walking the streets. It is quite easy to imagine how the events of World War II could affect a World-War-I trench veteran. Perhaps we should bear in mind his anxiety with three sons all serving at that time: one was James (my father), a Royal Marine and a D-Day survivor, aged 19; then there was George, who was based with the RAF in Singapore; and finally John, who was with the Merchant Navy. The three sons all lived into their mid-80s, but my grandfather died aged 66 in 1948. He was survived by nine children in total, and was grandfather to a famous Liverpool son, my cousin and poet Roger McGough.

William ShawWilliam Shaw, my maternal grandfather, was born in 1894. According to family birth certificates, he was a private in the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment in March 1916, and, by April 1917, by the time my mother (pictured standing in the photograph, right) was born, a Lance Corporal (number 11571) in the 1st Battalion.  I have no other war details of him, as I can’t seem to access his war records. Can anyone advise? I would be most grateful. I did find some information on his medals (he was awarded the Victory, British and Star medals), but I am not sure that can tell me much.

Like my other grandfather, William Shaw survived but suffered tragedy as a latent consequence of the Great War. According to my family, he took his own life during the Liverpool Blitz in 1941, when he heard the news of the death of his son John (Jack), who is seated in the photograph (above right). John was serving in the North Africa campaign driving a truck which was hit.

1. ‘Disembodied’ is a specific Army term for the demobilization of soldiers in certain types of service, notably the Territorial Forces.

William John McGarry (1883-1948) and William Shaw (1894-1941) are the relatives of Dr John McGarry, Lecturer in Parasitology, University of Liverpool.

If you can help John to find details of William Shaw’s war service, you can contact him at hydrot1@liverpool.ac.uk